Terminal vs. MentalMay 29th, 2012 by Ran
So apparently May is a depressing month. It is the awareness month of no less than five VERY serious diseases: Brain Tumors, Mental Illness, Skin Cancer and ALS, AKA Lou Gehrig’s disease. I don’t know who’s in charge of the illness awareness calendar, and I’m not a doctor, but I don’t think it’s good for you to be aware of so many ailments at the same time. As a form of escapism, I decided to look to the cinematic and TV archives for the best titles that deal with either mental disorders or terminal illnesses, and try to decide where they were done the most justice. Since there are so many different films about this subject I divided my showdown into five categories:
1. TV Series
Although both TV series are not strictly about disease, the illnesses their characters suffer from are one of the main reasons for the choices they make and the actions they take. When the boss of Chicago, mayor Tom Kane (Kelsey Grammer), discovers he suffers from a terminal illness that has no cure, he is determined to: (a) keep it a secret, (b) try and reconcile with his estranged daughter, and (c) do everything he can to secure his political legacy. In Homeland, CIA officer Carrie Anderson (Claire Danes) suffers from bipolar disorder, which drives her obsession to investigate her suspect no matter what her boss says. While Danes’ character is infinitely more sympathetic than Grammer’s, the complexity of Boss gives it the edge. 1 – 0 for the terminally ill.
In the dead corner we have a film about the first American state to legalize assisted suicides and how different people deal with their death. In the mad corner, we see the rise and fall of an idiosyncratic and mentally ill musician, whose psyche never gave him a chance at success. Both film are Sundance Festival winners. This is a very difficult choice for me. On the one hand, the subject matter of How to Die in Oregon is more important and thought provoking. On the other, the sincere and unflinching portrayal of an unstable human being and his very unique music makes for a very different and refreshing film. I’ll call it a draw.
In 50/50 Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) learns he has a malignant tumor and has a 50/50 chance of survival. Brother and sister Savage (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney) learn that their estranged father has dementia, and they need to take care of him. Laughing at with such serious subjects is no mean feat. And when you have Seth Rogen in the cast, the chance of offending someone can somewhat grow. But the result is a really touching comedy that is not too sappy with a dash of “in your face” Rogen. The great cast of The Savages and a very good script make it complex and three dimensional. I’m still undecided – a draw.
Ewan McGregor gets two surprising revelations from his elderly father (Oscar Winner Christopher Plummer): He comes out as gay and has terminal cancer. The film begins after the loveable father’s death, and has a nonlinear style, leaping back and forth from his relationship with his dying but upbeat dad, his dealings with grief, sexuality, commitment, and meeting a new woman (Melanie Laurent). Johnny Depp plays Gilbert Grape, who deals with an extremely obese mom and a mentally ill brother (Leonardo Di Caprio). Both protagonists have a lot on their plate, and both films offer tender moments and good acting. It’s the lead actor that tips the scale, and Depp’s performance is far better than McGregor’s ultimately unsatisfying character. The mental cases get on the board; it’s a 1-1 draw.
Estranged family and old friends try to make the final days of an ill professor as agreeable as they can, while the dying man reflects on his choices, way of life and philosophy. In Ingmar Bergman’s experimental film a young and beautiful nurse (Bibi Andersson) is isolated with a mentally ill actress (Liv Ullman) for her therapy. The inexperienced caregiver is swept into a strange co-dependent relationship that is not recommended for any therapist. While Bergman’s essential film is interesting, and sweeping with amazing acting from the two leads, the human warmth present in Denys Arcand’s drama, with much wit and humor, made it’s way right into my heart. 2-1 to the dying who return to the lead.
An ex-cop goes on a killing spree, while dealing with his wife’s terminal illness, in Takeshi Kitano’s crime drama; In Michael Winterbottom’s adaptation of Jim Thompson’s novel, we get into the mind of a psychopathic sheriff who moonlights as a serial killer. Both films are brutally violent, with Kitano’s character abiding by Tuco’s (or, The Ugly) rule of combat (shoot, don’t talk) while kicking major Yakuza butt, and Casey Affleck killing mercilessly with no remorse. It’s those moments of tenderness in Fireworks, where Kitano’s old partner is painting, and the violence quells (for a bit), that make this film more complete than the detached character study of a psychopath Winterbottom sets out to explore. 3-1, death is getting ahead.
Tom Hanks plays a lawyer that deals with AIDS and discrimination in his workplace in this powerful drama, which is relevant also today. The rise and fall of the unstable Mathematician John Nash (Russell Crowe) is the story of A Beautiful Mind. Both movies won Oscars and both are very moving, but for me the acting of Hanks is superior to Rowe’s so Philly gets the nod. Death is leading 4-1, It looks hopeless for the crazies.
Max von Sydow’s character, the priest, is dealing with his mother’s terminal illness in The Exorcist, while Norman Bates’ split personality lands him in the mental illness category in Alfred Hitchcock’s horror masterpiece. The nod goes, obviously, to Norman, for a flawless performance in a flawless film. Not to take away from one of the more scary and complex supernatural horror flicks ever made. 4-2, is it too late for an insane comeback?
9. What About Jack?
Jack Nicholson won an Oscar for both pictures. The first contender is about the up and down relationship between a mother and her daughter, who deals with a terminal illness at a certain point. Jack plays a free-wheeling ex-astronaut who has a love affair with the mother while being his usual eccentric self. In the second, Jack is a con man who fakes insanity and winds up in a mental institution. While in prison they only contain your body, he finds the efforts to control his mind unbearable. Both are great movies, but it’s hard to surpass Milos Forman’s masterpiece from 1975. 4-3 and it’s down to the last shootout.
10. Ensemble Cast
Paul Thomas Anderson’s drama shows a day in the lives of a number of interconnected characters. One of them (played by Philip Baker Hall), plays a former TV producer who is dying from cancer and tries to reconcile with his estranged daughter. Todd Solondz’s many characters in Happiness are all on the scale of a mental illness. It starts with a dysfunctional person and ends with the pedophile. These are both great films, that try to say something interesting about today’s society, but the melodramatic nature of Magnolia as opposed to Solondz’s dark humor, and fearlessness in the face of disturbing themes gives the win to Happiness. And we have a shocking 4-4 tie. Next year we’ll do a rematch, ok?
>> To comment on this blog post, or to share your own insight on entertainment, join us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/JinniDotCom
Technorati Tags: May, illness awareness month, Brain Tumors, Mental Illness, Skin Cancer, ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, escapism, mental disorders, terminal illnesses, Boss, Homeland, Kelsey Grammer, Tom Kane, Claire Danes, Carrie Anderson, bipolar disorder, TV Series, Documentary, How to Die in Oregon, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Sundance Festival winners, Comedy, 50/50, The Savages, dementia, Adam Lerner, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney, Seth Rogen, Beginners, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Ewan McGregor, Oscar Winner, Christopher Plummer, coming out, gay, obese, Melanie Laurent, Johnny Depp, Leonardo Di Caprio, The Barbarian Invasions, Persona, Fireworks, The Killer Inside Me, Ingmar Bergman, Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullman, caregiver, therapist, Denys Arcand, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Winterbottom, Jim Thompson, psychopathic, Casey Affleck, Winterbottom, Philadelphia, A Beautiful Mind, Tom Hanks, Aids, discrimination, John Nash, Russell Crowe, Oscar winner, The Exorcist, Psycho, Max von Sydow, Norman Bates, Alfred Hitchcock, Terms of Endearment, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Jack Nicholson, Milos Forman, Magnolia, Happiness, Paul Thomas Anderson, Philip Baker Hall, Todd Solondz
Popularity: 2% [?]